Saturday, July 31, 2010


Wind whispers
through the canopy
like lake ripples
through the trees

Small leaves spiral
thick as raindrops,
pixies dancing
on the breeze

Sunlight consecrating trees-
almost, I hear an organ sound:
I, pilgrim and acolyte,
the golden forest
hallowed ground

Birch bark like ancient manuscript
writ by a gnarled and pointy hand
tells tales of olden times long-gone,
bygone days upon the land

Once again, the breeze-song swells,
upon the wind a hymn of praise:
to these blessed simple days,
these days we have,
a hymn of praise

A blogger's dilemma

It's a bit of a gong show around here. Two pre-schoolers are here for the weekend, as well as my youngest daughter, Stephanie and her new man, her two dogs, my two dogs, my sister's THREE dogs (across the street but part of the melee) goal is to sail serenely through it without worrying about anything, enjoy it as it it all unfolds.......

I have just very excitedly found Poets United, which opened a doorway to finding other poets.Robert Lloyd has put in a ton of work to create a place for writers to connect, share work, and get feedback. If you write or enjoy poetry, check out

This is as a long cool drink of water to someone parched on the desert. I live in a cultural armpit where there has been no encouragement or support for my writing. I tried unsuccessfully to get a writers' group happening, but everyone is too busy, so no one can commit. Finding an on line community is wonderful. The problem I am having is that before I found everyone, I archived all my fave poems way back in June. I have written about a thousand poems, but since I started writing them at fourteen, a few decades worth are ancient history. Lately, I have been blogging and inputting some memoir pieces and that has been fun. But now poets are coming knocking and unless they click on my earlier posts, they will be getting a mixed bag, not a lot of poetry, just now. And now July will disappear into the archives. But my camera and I have some cool plans for August!

Tonight or tomorrow morning I will be posting my Project Genesis page and it will have to stay up for a few days so others who are participating can stop by. Then I plan to post some more memoir, especially my Love Song to Clayoquot Sound, my opus:) Then will put some more poetry up. But am thinking, I am going to have to write some new poems!!! This is a good thing!

I love the Sunday Poetry Pantry idea, good chance to dust off some of those June entries and submit them one at a time, thus keeping my "poet" credentials current:)

There is a memorable blog at
called Mother Theresa Does New York. Pretty hilarious.

Through Poets United I have come across some remarkable poetry written by a young woman in South Africa. She is at Skylover www.kerryoconnorpoems,

And of course Susannah Bec at Out of My Ocean

Remarkable work, and I am enjoying visiting all of the sites listed. I have so thirsted for a writing community. So much talent out there, so many unique voices, each with his or her gift. An amazing world we live in! Write on, fellow poets and bloggers!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bigger Than the Sky

photo from
There are panthers
in the forests
of Mumbai.
This sets me dreaming
of a land
where temples
lean towards
the sky.
A poet walks
in footsteps of Siddhartha
as another day
on Planet Earth
goes by.

There is a doctor
in the refugee camps
of Gaza
who lost three daughters
to Israeli bombs.
He works for peace
across Israeli borders.
"I shall not hate,"
he says.
"I shall not cease."

There's a Sky-show
going on
this very second!
We live in miracles,
you and I.
Look up,
look up.
Let's never cease
our striving
to keep our vision
bigger than
the Sky.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


AP photo/David Brauchli

Sister Refugee,
your hopeless, tear-streaked face
looks out at me
from my tv screen
and I recognize
how easily
it might have been
I finding myself
sitting in your place.

It could so easily be
me instead of you
on that muddy hillside
in the rain,
looking so tired and old,
so resigned and full of pain,
cradling a sleepy grandchild
against the bitter cold.

What do we know or care
of politics?
Our lives are about love,
and keeping children safe.
We walk the same earth,
share the sky above;
that yours rains bombs
and mine rains tears
a trick of fate
that could just as easily
this time next year.

photo by BBC
Your eyes meet mine
across the miles
with bitter dread.
In the midst of
all this folly
how do we keep the children fed?
How nurture the future,
how hang on to hope,
when life hangs
by such a fragile thread?

We both agree
that this is not
The Way,
are helpless
but to endure,
having no say,
until the tide
can turn
and turn
once more,
tossing us up
upon a kinder shore.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Prayer for Mother Earth

photo by NASA

From El Nino to La Nina,
with floods, tornadoes,
wind and weirder weather,
Mother Earth has been
indicating to us
her grave displeasure.

Our hearts beat in sympathy
with her,
share her dis-ease.
We seem to know that
we have lost our way,
but how do we
find the words to say,
the prayers to pray,
that will
unseat a dynasty
of such greed
and hungry power?

the collective consciousness
to a more peaceful paradigm:
there is still time
to join together
all our human hearts
- the only place where
peace can truly flower.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I have a bucket list of places I would love to see, but likely never will this lifetime.
The Great Wall of China for one. Imagine walking in the same footsteps as people of so long ago.

I enjoy armchair traveling though. I read, late into the night, the soft light falling on the page, as I trek through Burma with a woman seeking her lost lover; or walk, footfall by footfall through the Himalayas, seeking a glimpse of the snow leopard. (Best book ever: The Snow Leopard by Peter Mathiessen!)

Machu Picchu.

courtesy of Wickipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Terra Cotta Warriors.

First on my wish list is Africa, of course, which I have loved and dreamed about all my life. My friend Lynette topped even this dream, when she went to Africa, by floating in a BALLOON across the Serengeti at DAWN. I did not even know dreams could be that big, and be fulfilled.
On Thursday I met a man who has been to Africa, and other exotic places, many times, in his work with the missions, building dwellings and wells for some of the world's most impoverished.

"That is what I should have done with my life," I told him.

He replied, "You're still alive."

Yes, I am.

I live in such a beautiful area that really I have little interest in exotic "vacations". Tofino, an hour and a half away, has everything I love and need. But there are a few places I would like to see :

I wish I was strong enough physically to walk the Camino. I traveled there with Shirley McLean, slept with her on concrete slabs in stone pilgrimages, leaned on her walking stick the whole way. It was glorious!

Dharamsala because the Dalai Lama is there. A dear Buddhist friend of mine was walking by a travel agency some years back and saw a poster of Dharamsala. Immediately she knew that she had to go there. She bought her ticket on the spot and spent six months in a monastery there.
I first learned about the Terra Cotta warriors, reading Annie Dillard's For the Time Being. She wrote about going to see them herself, life-sized clay figures of hundreds of soldiers, carriages and horses, emerging from a partially excavated archeological site in China. They were carved and placed there to guard the tomb of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang around 210 B.C., to protect him in death, as an alternative to burying his live soldiers and their horses, who had protected him in life. (Likely a good era to be a pacifist!) They estimate there are 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 520 horses still buried.

I can only imagine what it must be like to see them. Many trenches have so far been dug, and a great many of the soldiers have been excavated and stand in formation, row upon row. Annie wrote about entering what looked like an empty, uninteresting antechamber, then catching her breath in wonder as she stepped through a doorway to see men emerging from the clay - here an arm, there a leg or helmet, and some who seemed to be swimming upward through the soil, still partially entombed in clay.

There are many things on my wish list of things to see: African lions lying amber in the setting sun, and elephants, trumpeting gently in the morning mist; basically EVERYTHING in Africa!
(Thank heaven for films! I Dreamed of Africa is an all-time fave. True story.)

I would like to travel one more time along the Oregon coast down to northern California. Preferably when the Monarch butterflies are swarming the highway in the thousands during their migration.

The Queen Charlottes, far enough up the West Coast and in a severe enough climate that what has happened to Tofino has not occurred there yet. Beauty times a thousand. I would be living there if it was not so far away from my family.
Oh, and a trip by train across the Denali wild life refuge in Alaska. May as well take one through the Rocky Mountains again, too, while I'm at it. (Dream BIG!)

And those Terra Cotta warriors, swimming through the packed soil, to live above the ground once again.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Close Encounters of the Furry Kind

photo credits:

On the news yesterday: two campers, asleep in their sleeping bags some miles outside of my town on Vancouver Island, were attacked by a black bear and injured quite severely. This is rather amazing news. We hear now and then about grizzly attacks farther north, and more frequently cougars are spotted up and down the Island. But we often encounter black bears in the woods. I have a resident bear that has lived at the end of my street for the last ten years and aside from getting into our garbage every now and then, poses no threat, he keeps out of our way when we are walking our dogs through the trails.

When we come face to face or within sight of a black bear, what is usual is for the bear to turn and lumber away into the forest, giving us a wide berth. To hear that one has attacked PRONE sleeping non-threatening humans is extremely unusual. I have to believe that a combination of factors is at play and, while I feel for the humans, I am very worried about the bears, and other creatures on this planet, who are finding their survival threatened by the apparently insatiable demands of our species.

The bear attacked the more seriously injured camper first and that man would have been a goner, except that the second man managed to extricate himself from his sleeping bag, grab his knife, flailing at the bear's nose, slicing it. then he grabbed a big rock and hit the bear on the head. This caused the bear to get sidetracked, turn his energy towards the second man. This man fought hard enough that the bear retreated, allowing him to load his injured friend into the truck. That is when he discovered his keys were in his pants pocket at the campsite. He had to go back for them, and the bear seemed ready to attack again. However the man got his keys and made it back to the truck, speeding his friend and himself to the hospital here in Port.

A search party went out to find and destroy the bear and that is the end of this story. Both campers appear to be going to survive the attack, with deep lacerations on their backs, and some injury to their heads.

My concern is the bigger picture: the planet that all of these creatures find themselves living on, where their habitat has been so decreased and encroached upon and their food supplies so decimated, that they are forced further and further into "our" territory in a search for food and survival. Clearcutting has not only removed much of their habitat - in North America, the multinationals cant log fast enough, in the most wasteful possible manner, in an effort to make their billions before the last old growth tree falls - but has contributed so seriously to global warming that everything on earth and in the sea is feeling the effect.
When will legislators be brave enough - (more concerned about the planet than re-election) - to legislate the tough changes that should have come thirty years ago? When will what is right be more important than profit?
Tune in next century. Forgive me for feeling jaded. At the same time I have to HOPE that the transformation of human consciousness on this planet will happen in time. We dont have much of it left. And we have children and grandchildren who want and need to live. As do the bears and other creatures of the land and sea.
Bears I have come across? Many, down by the river where the goldens swim in summer. On one outing a few months back, my sister Lori knew from droppings, and the way the dogs were acting, that a bear was close by. There is a resident bear in that forest along the river; we see him often and he always lumbers away. So she carefully peeked around a bush, to find herself staring straight into the face of the bear, who was ALSO peeking around the same bush! "Woo!" they both said, or words to that effect, and each beat a hasty retreat.
Once I was biking into town from Chestermans Beach of an early morning, on my way to work, when a bear lumbered up the hill at the side of the road and scuttled in front of my bike. "Whoo!" we both huffed, and carried on along our perpendicular routes.
Another time Stephanie and I were taking our assorted dogs - three or four in number - to Wickanninish for a beach run. As we were about to let the dogs out of the car, someone rushed over and told us to keep them in, a bear was on his way to us through the bushes. We got back into the car and the bear came right past us, hustling quickly, bothered by the baying of our dogs inside the car. We sat and watched to see what he would do. He sniffed around the RV's and all the vehicles till he stopped beside a small red compact car. There must have been food inside, because the bear stood up on his hind legs and ROCKED the car a few times, until the window popped out. Then he climbed right inside the car. I had never seen a bear do that before. I would have liked to see the face of the owner of the car, who was sitting inside the restaurant eating his dinner all this while. Or the face of the ICBC insurance adjustor when the man submitted his claim for damage to a vehicle from a bear.
When my uncle was young, he sold bread for McGavins. In those days he drove a zooty salmon and cream colored convertible and he had the top down as he traveled through the Rocky Mountains. The back seat was full of sticky buns and bread. On one of the mountain passes, traffic was stopped and backed up due to some closure or other. While Don sat waiting, a bear came along, attracted by the lovely smells issuing from his car. My uncle started throwing the bear package after package, bun after bun, to keep him happy enough to not come closer. He was very exposed, and there was no where to go to get away. He started geting nervous as the pile of buns disappeared, hoping traffic would start up before he ran out. Thankfully it did.
But my favorite story is the time my daughter and her then husband and young children came to Tofino for a visit. On their way, before catching the ferry, they stopped at Stanley Park in Vancouver, and took the kids to the zoo. They went to the acquarium and saw the whales, to the penguin pen to see the penguins, seal pen to see the seals, and the monkey pen to see the monkeys.
When they got to my place, Lisa and Len took Ali and Tyler on a boat trip to see the whales, while I watched the younger ones who were too little. They saw whales, and penguins and seals. When they came back, we went to Green Point where they played on the shore for a while. As we were coming back up the trail to the car, people stopped us and said there was a mother bear and two cubs on the trail. Lisa and Ali and Tyler, who were ahead of us, actually had to run back to us, they came so close to the bears.
The path finally was clear, we went back to the van and as we drove away I saw Tyler, who was then five, looking very pensive. I thought he might have been traumatized by the close encounter, but I think he was just processing.
Gently, I said "It's been a big day, hasnt it, Tyler?"
He nodded. Then he said, "Can we go see the monkeys now?"
In his mind, he had been to an Indoor Zoo and now he had been to a gigantic Outdoor Zoo. All that had been missing were the monkeys! We cracked up.
My friend, Paul, lived in a yurt on the edge of a high cliff in Clayoquot Sound, looking out to sea. Bears often visited and helped themselves to his foodstuffs. He hiked a great deal, in some very wild places and once I asked him, "Have you ever come face to face with a bear on your hikes?"
"Yes, I have."
"What did you do?"
He looked at me, assessing whether to tell me or not. Deciding he could, he smiled and said, "I sang to the bear!"
I was delighted. "I love that! What did the bear do?"
"Well, I sang a bit, and then he'd move a bit, and then I'd sing a bit, and then he'd move a bit, and after a while he moved across the trail and away, and we both carried on."
But that was some years ago and the whole planet is hotting up, in every conceivable way. Who will speak for the animals, who cant speak for themselves? My heart hurts for them. I know there are millions of humans suffering too, for many of the very same reasons. I hurt for them as well. But it's Slumdog Days for animals these days, and today, I am thinking of one bear who, like a resident of the East Side in Vancouver, has found life such a struggle, such poverty, such hopelessness, such hunger, that he just couldnt take it any more.
And now he's gone.

For Stephanie in the cancer ward

[This is my second time around with cancer in one of my children. Stephanie is my youngest, and in 2000 she had cancer, which fortunately was quickly and easily treated and has not recurred. I wrote this for her in the oncology ward, just as I wrote a poem for Jeff in another oncology ward this spring.]

Who could have forseen
when that pink-wrapped bundle was placed in my arms,
little gnome eyes
so fresh from the other world,
or that impish, sunny-haired three-year-old
with laughing eyes
singing "You Are My Sunshine",
(all your life
you have been
my sunshine) -
that we'd find ourselves
this sunny autumn morn
together in the cancer clinic
both smiling bravely
(we are Can-Do people)
you donning larger versions
of those long-ago gowns and booties,
going into the procedure room
fortunately unaware
of what yet may lie ahead,
in Optimistic Mode:

all will be well
all will be well
all will be exceedingly well
because it must be,
because you are my golden child
and I could not live
in a world without
your sunshine.

Ten years later: still cancer-free! Blessings abound!


Josh, a tree sprite

Little boy
upon the grass
looking at
the sky so vast
watching puffy cloud-shapes pass
while the days
slowly past

Arms crossed behind my head, am I
humming my love song
to the sky
below me
grass so soft and dry,
above a yellow

Time stretches out
without an end
time the little
boy's best friend
these days will never
come again
the way they do
when I am ten

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer....

Caleb, "Mr. Sunshine", on Wickanninish Beach

This was such a great day! I had just returned to the West Coast, after a snowbound winter in Kitimat, and was staying with Lisa in Ucluelet until I could find a place to rent. She and her four kids, her little Yorkie, Hope, my big old wolf-dog Pup, and I spent the day at the beach. Above, Ali and Caleb and Pup wrangle over some kelp.

Pup wins. The little globby blur in front is not kelp, it is little Hope. People walking by on the beach stopped to laugh at the sight of such disparately-sized critters playing happily together. Pup could have made a snack of Hope, had he chosen to.

Josh and Pup - more kelp :)

Caleb, Hope and Pup

Tyler running on the shore

This is my favorite picture of Lisa and her kids, when they were younger. You cant see Hope, but she is sitting on Lisa's lap. Poor Hope was hit by a truck and died some months after this was taken. We still miss her. It took some time, looking at this photo, before we became aware of a rounded shape on the left over Tyler's shoulder, with two glowing eyes looking eerily out. It is PUP! Hilarious!!!!!!

Those were happy days. Days of childhood and summer, so swiftly gone.

Flawless Magician Too

Chestermans Beach at sunset

Some time back I posted my poem Flawless Magician (you can find it in the list to the right:)) Going through some papers today, I found the following, written in prose form at the same time.........

I did the math. For around twenty thousand four hundred and sixty days, I have been looking at the sky, many times a day. Each time, I see a brand new sky, each time a masterpiece done in many different hues, sometimes against a backdrop of blue, sometimes of gray. Sometimes the clouds are picture-book perfect puffy white; sometimes they blaze with all the magnificent colors of the sunset. Sometimes they glower, dark gray with portents of a coming storm.

Each time I look away and then look back again, it all has changed. Faster even than I can raise my camera and click the shutter, each perfect glimpse has been and gone forever, never to be seen in just that way again.

It is like God wields the palette and the brush, a Master Artist with an ever-changing canvas. Or as if the sky-paintings change form and shape undetected, by the incredible sleight of hand of a flawless magician.

Ode to a heron....

[I lived for a time in Port Albion, on this lovely pond. At sunset, the rosy hue would light up the mountain right outside my door and herons would swoop across to perch in the trees. Sigh.]

Graceful heron
swooping across the evening sky
like a pteradactyl,
Prehistoric bird
perched on a treetop,
My heart swoops with you,
then stills,
standing by the silent pond,
waiting for the night to settle
around us both
softly as feathers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Port Albion, 1999

Song of the frogs
in the fading light
soft fade the hills
in the falling night
God touching earth
with a gentle might
and all is beauty
within my sight

soft falls the light
on garden walls
a rose-hued mountain
as day's curtain falls
a froggy symphony
serenades the night sky
and grateful, grateful, grateful


She had spent many years looking outward for answers. Friends, trying to help, told her, "It isn't in books, it's in you." In her twenties, she heard the words, but did not understand.

She remembers walking down Granville Street when she was twenty-seven, looking out with sad eyes from her painful inner prison, and a man passing by in the street smiling at her, saying, "You just have to get over that mountain. Just get over that mountain." His look was so kind, so understanding, she still remembered him all these years later.Even books said, "It isnt in books, it's in you." She had read many books, hundreds, about the spiritual journey. In her bed late at night, she trekked the Himalayas, completed the pilgrimage along The Camino, followed the path with heart. Life is our greatest teacher, so eventually it all began to make sense.

She had always been on this journey, but now she knew she was on the journey. She began to trust herself and the universe, to follow her heart and her inner voice, take the scary leap into the unknown, trusting "either there would be ground to stand upon, or she would be given wings to fly." Her forties were a healing decade, when she stopped running from and came home to herself. Then finally, finally, she flew.

It was the biggest trusting she had ever done. But her inner voice told her it was now or never. Her dream was to live on the wild west coast. If she didnt go now, she never would, she would have to give up her dream. And she knew she couldnt live without a dream. She left behind a hard-earned promotion, good salary and long-awaited "security", to move to Tofino, for twenty years her dream; she now, finally, brave enough to make the terrifying leap, the biggest trusting she had ever done. It was here she learned the only true security is what we carry within, here she released her fear of tomorrow in order to more truly savor the goodness of today.

Here where she found her home, the home of her spirit, within the forest and along the ocean's shore.

All her life she had sought peace and now it came to live inside her, spreading out in that vast interior silence where there were no words, no thoughts, no worries. It lay beneath the daily ups and downs of those around her, so she sailed serenely past, compassionate and caring, but holding fast to her hard-won inner sanctuary, to her peace, to her joy.
She had always been a lover of the sky, the forest, the wild places. And here, surrounded by beauty, she was so consciously grateful for it all. Her life was one long "Thank You", that ran through her days, a counterpoint to the distracted busy world around her. Thank You for the sky, for the brilliance of sunshine on fresh green leaves, for the eagle's flight, for the tiniest intricate bouncy patch of moss upon the forest's floor.

Joy was her companion as she walked along the beach, the sursurration of waves washing over her spirit as balm, smoothing away any concerns that had been trying to hitch a ride.
Her eyes feasted ecstatically upon islands, herons, old-growth forest, frothing white caps crashing over rocks, the dip of the eagle's wing. Lone Cone staunchly guarded the friendly harbour, blushing a deep rose all along the ample bosom of Meares Island, as the sun fell upon it at the close of day. She lived in contented self-sufficient silence for ten glorious years, needing, wanting nothing more than nature's bounty, splendiferous around her, so rich and various, free for the taking, whether human eye was there to appreciate it or not. So much life!
She watched others chattering, talking, sparking ideas off each other, laughing raucously, needing to mark their presence with sound, and she smiled, needing no words, content to simply Be, to look about feeling a deep-seated harmony, a kinship with all beings dwelling in this power spot, her spirit come home at last to its right place.

There were times she recognized that she had created a sometimes lonely exile; times she longed for what others had, a partner to share the wonder of the journey. At the end of ten years of self-imposed exile, she opened herself to the universe once more, ready to accept the change that she felt coming.
The change was illness, inability to work, and she was forced to leave her h0me, her place in the world, to move to a more affordable town inland, away from the smell and sound of the sea that she needed, she needed, to be happy.
The universe set her the task of losing what she most loved. She rolled up her sleeves. She made a home and a life, once again; she learned to be happy where she was. But her heart longed every moment for the sea and there wasnt a day she didnt miss it.
Then she thought she had found the love she had sought forever. Her formerly withheld heart blossomed, opening farther than it ever had before. The white knight turned out to be play-acting; the romance she had believed was real turned out to be a farce. When it ended, she knew her heart was finally whole. She had been brave enough to risk, had loved and lost, once again emerging strong and whole and ready to move on. The worst had happened, and she had made it through. Traveler, there is no path. The Way is the path.
Now here she is, poet, star dreamer, inner voyager, moving through her days one by one, opening each like a Christmas package all unknown, under the shiny wrapping a wealth of smiles and unexpected tears, of shining moments of sudden grace, strung like winking stars across a canopy of midnight sky.
She knows all about 'the silence from which all music comes.' It is her dearest friend. Out of that vast silence, that knowingness, has grown the full authenticity of who she is, at home within the universe and her Self. Through it, the beautiful symphony of life plays like a mellow clarinet on a summer afternoon, warm and golden, counterpoint to the full brass band of daily experience, all inter-woven and living mellifluously together in her heart.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


There is a woman sitting on a porch swing.
She is rocking
to ease
the hard little kernel of pain
she has always carried
under her valiant smile,
the strain of sadness underlying
the positive talk,
the unrelenting hope,
the dismayed recognition
at the way it has all turned out
so far from the once upon a time visions
of long ago,
for so long dreaming one day it would all be
so much better.

She is rocking upon the tide of all those dreams:
the one she made come true -
the ten years out of sixty when she lived her own life-
and the ones she finally gave up on
She is rocking upon the tide of What Is
having long ago learned to find happiness
within its framework.

She is rocking under a blue sky
full of birdsong. squirrel chatter
and the call of the raven
She is rocking under
lowering storm clouds
of smokey gray,
thunder rumbling,
splitting across the sky,
the fresh scent of rain as it splatters
against the tin roof.
She is rocking under the night sky,
and star dreaming
She is rocking under the
full round grandmother moon
and is feeling the presence of crones
on the night-time air:
strong resolute women who do
what is put before them
because no one else will
and there is no choice
when someone has to
feed the children

She is rocking her way
to the end of her life
letting go of the past,
letting go of all fractious and
inharmonious bodies,
distancing herself from all the
crisis and clamour and youthful drama
her age has no energy for,
gathering her limited energy, conserving,
for the needs of the present day
letting go of the dreams once dreamed
and the years that cannot come again,
leting go of Home and making a home where she is,
trying to be grateful for struggle
Because It Could Always Be Worse,
(and often is!)

She is trying to cling to the vanishing life that is hers
under the claims and demands that would gobble it all
and then burp unperturbed at its ending
having eaten its fill.

She is longing for long white empty beaches
and the roar of the waves,
the cry of the gulls, the eagle soaring wind-swept skies,
and the picky-toeing progress of the blue heron,
serene at the inlet's edge
and no humans anywhere within sight or hearing
but her.
She is longing for her last years to be her own
something of her own choosing
having only chosen once - maybe twice -
in her entire life of responsibility
for herself
All the rest was for others,
the pitfall of those who take seriously
the role of mother.

While rocking, she achieves the state of No Thought,
that Nirvana the sages and mystics seek through practice
is effortless for her
for she is too exhausted to think
Inner peace disguised as exhaustion
or vice versa
She rocks and thoughts flit
like the little birds in the hedgerow
and fly fast away
She rocks and promises herself
that one day at a time
is all she has to manage
The rest will take care of itself
She prays for relief
that some of the burdens be lifted
But she doesnt believe enough
they ever will

One day she will rise wraith-like
from all the burdens that claim her
and will fly to a farther shore.
She would rather stay here
for she really likes the scenery
on planet earth
But she likes it best without people
all their egoes and clamour
and inflated self-worth

On her porch swing she mutters oaths and incantations:
sometimes "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" when she remembers
something incredibly oafish she once said
sometimes "Shift....shift.....shift....." as she tries to add
her small push to the collective consciousness

Somewhere monks bow to the tone of a fulsome bell
Somewhere nomads hunger for food and justice
Somewhere ignorant armies clash and thunder
Somewhere butterflies follow their migration of pure wonder
Somewhere a whale gives a mighty blow,
then dives, then breaches
and always always always
her heart trods
those long and empty beaches
On her porch swing she is with them all,
all but the fighting.
She has no fight in her,
her striving is for surviving

Today her first great grandchild has come to planet earth
and all the hope she has blesses this birth.

Damian, born June 12, 2006

With his buddy, Lukey

Every now and then
I look up and out
from this hobbled existence
through a window of miracles
and glimpse
a heron gliding by
like a grim and skinny matron
clutching her pocketbook
under a stiff wing,
or a shimmery rainbow,
gossamer valentine from the deity,
or the silent promise of daybreak
every day brand new upon the planet
or a patch of blue amidst gray storm clouds
or the stalwart enduring heartbeat
of a thousand year old cedar,
eagle peering down
from its topmost scrag
Every now and then a brand new miracle occurs:
a baby catching its first breath
utters its protesting cry
at leaving its gloried heaven
to endure this planet's pain
Each time we celebrate with joy
a new soul's journey
is beginning
once again
Every now and then I look up
beyond the burden and the blessings
at the vast and constant sky
and remember
what I'm doing here
and why

Monday, July 19, 2010


Renee 1918 to 1994~always a "looker"

My mother always said my father was the only man she ever loved. She said I remembered only the bad times, and it is true that, looking back, all I remember is lying in bed at night shivering with terror, listening to the blows and screams and crashes in the living room.

But as my mother lay dying, in memory she returned to her most alive and vital years, the years with my dad, and she was able to say, as few of us can, "I had it all."

I was glad that, looking back, she could remember her life with happiness, that different memories lived in her than lived in me. There must have been a whole life hidden from my childish eyes that I was largely unaware of. Perhaps the best years were lived before I grew old enough to become aware of what seemed a steady deterioration through all the years after I was five years old, years in which our small nuclear family, and then our larger extended family, steadily disintegrated and scattered to the four winds, flung by separation, by rifts caused by alcohol and differing beliefs, and finally and irrefutably, by death.

Wedding Day, Kelowna, 1947

My grandma always gave my father full credit for his charm. "When he was sober, there was no man on earth more charming," she'd say. I remember times when, face alight, at that critical moment when he had imbibed enough to be happy, just before he fell over the lip of the cup to rage and violence, when he could hold a crowded room in thrall, telling stories with full awareness that he had the gift of storytelling. He had wit and humor and intelligence, and most of all he had musical talent.

But "Brick's parent's rued the day when they bought him his saxaphone," my grandma would reminisce. My father had studied classical violin since childhood. I didnt know till later in life where my love of the violin came from. I never heard classical music at home, discovering it with a passion at twenty-seven.

"From the day he got his saxaphone, he was lost to them," Grandma recalled. The boy turned to the popular "swing" music of the era; he began playing Big Band gigs around Saskatoon. Now I often play that music, the music that filled our house when I was a child: I'll Get By, Stardust, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and that era is returned to me entire: a time equated in my mind with the home movies taken in those years, that roll once more before my eyes: my aunts and uncles, my mom and dad, in their glory years, all beautiful, all romantic figures from a bygone time, like the cinematic stars of that generation: my mom with her long rolled pageboy and tight skirt, soldiers in uniform, impossibly handsome, war brides with tight curls and distant gazes, glasses of liquor ever-present in their hands, cigarettes dangling at angles on their crossed knees, smiling out at the world through the smokey haze, feeling terribly sophisticated, the world their oyster.

Taken by a sidewalk photographer in Vancouver

Such nostalgia hits when I see these films, or photographs from that time now gone. Not, certainly, for the life I lived then, for it was scarey and lonely and sad, lived on the fringes of the adults' preoccupation with their own existence. But for the innocence of the era: the romance that Hollywood held out as being available to us all, through the love songs and movies and stars of the time. My aunts and uncles seemed utterly glamorous to me, like movie stars themselves. Looking back from the vantage point of forty or fifty years, knowing how their love stories turned out (or didnt), how the years, illnesses, deaths and the hand of fate would implode and disperse our family, I feel a great tenderness for us all, smiling hopefully into the wobbly camera, at a time when we still believed we all had happy endings up ahead, just waiting for us to get there.

She so adored him

My mother loved to tell the story of how she and my dad met. She had just dyed her long hair platinum. "I was a knock-out," she remembered happily. "I had long blonde hair hanging down my back and I looked good! I was sixteen trying hard to look older and your dad took one look, jumped over the piano and bee-lined straight across the room to come and meet me."

That was it for both of them. My dad at the time was twenty-seven, unhappily married and the father of three children, plus he drank and played in a band. My grandparents, in small town Saskatoon, in those times, were scandalized, as well as afraid for their daughter.

"I didnt know what she saw in him," Grandma would reflect. "He was balding, overweight, a drinker, married with three kids. But the more we objected, the tighter she clung to him. We couldnt do a thing with her."

But they tried. By then, Dad's wife had found out about my mom and had kicked him out; he rented a room near the club where he performed. Grandma told me late one night she and my grandpa let themselves into his rented room. In the darkness, hardly breathing, nerve-wracked, they waited for him to come home. My grandpa held a flashlight and, thin and gray and quiet by nature, a gentleman who had never raised a hand to man nor beast in his whole life, was goaded by my grandma to "settle this once and for all."
When dad opened the door, from behind it in the darkened room, out leaped my grandma and grandpa, tackling him in a wild melee of curses, yells, arms, legs and at least one resounding thunk of the flashlight on my dad's bald head.
When the three extricated themselves and stood facing each other, panting, my grandparents told my dad to leave their daughter alone.
"I think he would have, too, but your mother wouldnt let him. He tried to break it off, but she kept after him. We sent her to stay with Cecile (mom's married sister) in Regina for a while, but he went there to visit her and she came back with him," Grandma told me.
"I remember one night she came home late and crawled into bed beside me, and she was shaking. I think he already must have been beating her. She was still only sixteen and so beautiful. I remember we sent her photo to Norman Rockwell, and he wrote back and said that if she went to New York she could make it as a model. But she wouldnt leave him. How different her life might have been," Grandma reflected.
But my mom would not have wanted her life any other way. She loved my dad.
*** *** *** *** ***
My mom carried guilt all her life for the way she left home.
Still just sixteen, "All I knew was I loved Brick and had to be with him. They gave me an ultimatum, either Brick or them, so I had no choice. But it killed me to walk out the door, leaving both of them crying in the doorway," my mom would say. "It was the hardest thing I ever did."
It was ten years before she and her parents were in touch again. My dad's ex-wife wouldnt agree to a divorce, and I was born before they were married. In those days that was scandalous, and my mom did not know how to renew relations, though she adored her parents and missed them dreadfully.
By now we lived in the Okanagan Mission, on the outskirts of small-town Kelowna. Mom's younger brother, Don, came for a visit, and then Mom's sister, Audrey, paved the way for reconciliation, telling my grandma about me. My grandparents soon came out for a visit, and loved the orchard community. They moved out soon after to the house on Christleton Avenue that for many years was the hub of our extended family, and the nucleus for our family gatherings.
It was on that porch that the home movies were made, in that house my childhood security resided, and in that house that I watched the beginning fissure that alcohol wedged between my aunts and uncles and my grandma who "hated the drink".
But their lives through those years had a glamour the grandchildrens' lives lacked, like the Hollywood films of their era, a combined sophistication, innocence and hopefulness, lived on a level far distant from our childish lives and concerns.
Our subsequent liaisons seem tawdry in comparison, lacking both romance and imagination, rather the same difference I find in the songs of today compared to the music of my mother's age. Or was it the knowledge that life could aspire to being better that we lacked, given our early introduction to the bewildering world of grownups?
Whatever it is, when we run the home movies, or play the music from those years, it is the whole era's disappearance that we mourn, along with all the smiling faces that now are gone. There was a scent to the lake-fresh morning air, a certain comfort in the sound of the hose hitting canvas awnings, the smell of pinks and carnations and sweet peas, a quality to the summer afternoons just before a thunderstorm that cannot be replicated, only remembered, like a country once visited that can never be returned to, except in reverie.
I am the age my grandmother was in those long ago days, when she seemed as old as God. Her life was circumscribed by housedresses, tea parties, Church on Sunday and her flower garden. Those years seemed to go on forever, while my years are flying past more swiftly than I can comprehend.
My children are now the ages of those long-ago glamorous aunts and uncles who seemed so elusively out of reach and adult then, and they seem so young to me now, too young to be raising children of their own. I see young moms out pushing prams who dont look old enough to babysit, and then I know that I am growing old.
Looking back, with age and memory, at those old home movies, I start to put it all together: the love story that was my mother's; the distant dreams that shone in those hopeful faces made more poignant by my knoledge of how their stories unfolded. With a clutch at my heart, I surreptitiously wipe my tears away as the film sputters, winds down and the screen goes white: all gone, those bright faces from long ago, the 40's, the swing music, the love, the pain that I overheard from my bedroom doorway in the wee small hours of the morning.
I remember the last time my mother watched, and how hard she cried, those years forever gone, with nothing nearly good enough to take their place. Now she's gone too, one more face missing from the film of all those gilt-edged years, she and my dad resting side by side under a picture of them in their glory days, with the words "Together Forever" on the headstone.
I find myself more and more often listening to the tunes she danced to when she was young, the music of her long ago youth so much more affecting than mine, and I think of her as I sing along:
"I just smile and say,
when a lovely flame dies,
smoke gets in your eyes....."
Mom and me, Okanagan Lake, 1946


The original coffeehouse with Lea-Ann's clothes hung out to dry :)

There are wounds that leave no scars, and I'm sure there isnt a person living on the planet who doesnt carry a fair share of them. My psyche bears the imprint of my beginnings in a violent, alcoholic household. It took years for the scar tissue to form around my numb and frightened heart, decades more to scrape away the layers and rediscover its beating presence within.

My childhood had been followed by a soul-crushing marriage, and then an affair with a man who time revealed to be a con man and an alcoholic. Now I was alone. For years I lived only for and with my four children. I felt safe only with them, beating a path between the library, grocery store and home. We did everything together. We hiked up Knox Mountain to fly kites on the grassy slopes, we went to the lake, or for bike rides, me leading the way on my big bike, the kids trailing behind me on their smaller ones like a brood of ducklings. My entertainment was their all-night sleepovers, when they danced and played and had popcorn fights, and I was their audience.

When I found Brock and Friends coffeehouse in Kelowna in 1980, there was a fozen Siberian wasteland living in my chest. I looked out at the world through frightened eyes. But something drew me through that door - something that wanted me to live.

I was shy, self-conscious almost to the point of muteness. But the minute I stepped through the door, something in my spirit knew I had come home. Here was the other side of life I had been searching for, here were dreamers and seekers, people who lived gently on the earth and with each other. Here people were accepted as they were; people gave freely, unafraid, unconditionally. Here people who felt they didnt fit in anywhere else, fit in. I watched people come in the door and be greeted warmly, by name, and wondered: Could there ever be a day when I'll be one of those people?

Brock and I in the new bigger coffeehouse. I preferred the old one.
In this little old house full of plants and stained glass and glorious music, my life turned down another pathway. Out of their abiding kindness, they offered me acceptance and safety and space just to be. My life as I now know it could never have been, had I not walked through that door.
The coffeehouse was run by volunteers, so I pushed through my shyness and put my name down for some shifts. Local musicians signed on for evening performances and, irresistably, the music drew me forth.
Brock loved the stage :)
At first, I was afraid to come out of the kitchen. I prepared the food, served it, then scuttled back to wipe down the counters, over and over. People were kind to me. They never pushed. They were the same to me whether I was happy or sad, mute or awkward. Still, if a man came into the kitchen and walked up too close to me, I froze completely. It was easier with the women.
Brock often said, "Come out and enjoy the music, Sherry. You dont have to stay in the kitchen."

Brock was a true clown. I never laughed so much in my life as I did with him.

In time I crept as far as the doorway, to watch and listen. Finally, I leaned up against an old treadle sewing machine just inside the door, and let the music take me away. I listened with an ache that was almost physical. All my life, I had wanted tp sing. Buit my self-conscious "not good enough" inner self held me back. I sang in private. Once, thinking I was alone, I was singing along with the tape deck as I chopped vegetables in the kitchen. Brock came out of his office and said "Sherry, you should be singing here with the others. You have such a beautiful voice."
Too shy. Too self-conscious. One part of me trying to break and fly free, the other holding me to the earth.
Lea-Ann with the voice of an angel

Magical evenings happened in that coffeehouse. Once after a public performance, some musicians from a symphony orchestra came to the coffeehouse and jammed with the local musicians. One of the regulars, Roger Sparks, had written a song called Gentle Jonathan about his brother's suicide. It was one of our favorite numbers. The musicians took that melody and improvised a fifteen minute riff on it that was utterly magical. Everyone was blown away.
At the end of the evening, as we were closing up, Brock came up to me and, for the first time, gave me a hug. "What a magical evening this was!" he said.

Lea-Ann, Brock and Roger, tuning up
I walked home under the stars with an awakening heart. Other than my children, this was the first hug anyone had given me in many years. I woke up the next morning in tears. I was coming alive, and it was painful.
I called Brock. "It hurts to feel! It was easier to be frozen!"
"No, dont ever say that," Brock chided. "It is always better to feel, to be alive. If you dont feel the pain, you cant feel the joy either."
It was while Brock and I were chopping vegetables side by side in the kitchen one afternoon, giggling and joking, that I realized I was standing next to a man and that I trusted him. I had never trusted a man vefore. But Brock was as safe as a brother. He had given me space and acceptance and time to heal from the traumas of the past and, unforced, the bud of my being slowly began to unfurl.
I realized I was giving of myself, and getting back something I never had, the sunshine of others' joy, and a reflection of myself I had never seen before, in all of my friends' eyes. What I gained in those years was so much more than what I gave. I gained back my life there, the life I was meant to live as the person I was meant to be. No small gift.
Here, I found my true home, and a family.

Myself, my dear friend Jeane and Guy, the "regulars"

Now, when I walked in the door, other faces lit up and called happily to me. One day while I was cleaning the toilet, down on my knees, scrubbing away, feeling satisfied that I was tending those I loved so caringly, the realization hit me: "THIS is the love I've been seeking all my life." I had thought I longed for a partner to give love to me and fill the empty places that had lived in me unfilled my whole life. Instead, it was in giving love, that I was filled. It was a revelation.

I began to write again, and to flower, and my shyness fell away. The coffeehouse marked a turning point in my life, set me on a kinder path than the walkways I had traveled, pointed me in the direction of my dreams. From that time on, I was on my own journey. I was on my way.
We had poetry nights. One evening the little Suzuki violin players came and played for us. Musicians both famous and not famous played for us, many of the undiscovered with surpassing talent. I adored the music and was expressive in my appreciation. Strangely, while the local bars were packed, most evenings we had only a scattered handful of people to enjoy the amazing offerings. Bu the musicians used to say "We dont need an audience when we have Sherry," because I loved it all so much.
One day Brock told me, "You must know you're a healer, Sherry, dont you?" I did not know. I only knew I was happiest in giving. I took home and housed one or another of the young girls who found the coffeehouse, until they found somewhere of their own to live. At the cofeehouse, as we prepared the food, there was so much laughter, there were times I could hardly stand up from laughing so hard.
Jeff with his face painted. Lisa and Steph were around there somewhere
One glorious afternoon, we had an outdoor musicfest in a huge grassy field outside of town. As a Celtic band called Mullingar began to fiddle their lively jigs, spontaneously most of the audience leaped up and began to dance and whirl all over the field in a glorious circle, against the setting sun. A moment that will live in memory forever.

Four year old Stephanie is on Guy's shoulders

I longed to join them, envied their joy and abandon, remained stalk-still at the edge of the field, imprinting the sight on my retina.
By the time the coffeehouse closed, a few years later, I stood on the stage and addressed eight hundred people, telling them of my gratitude for the years we had shared. One of the women came up to me later with tears in her eyes and said "Your power and your beauty made me cry."
Brock and Friends healed the inner wounds, and gave me wings to fly. With music and kindness and time and gentleness, they raveled a warm cloak of love around me that I carried with me forever after. I tip my hat to the universe for those golden years, when I burst out of my shell of pain and emerged into the land of the living, assisted by the kind folk at Brock and Friends, my family for all time.
My time there had been al about following one's heart and so, the next leap was a huge, trusting move to Tofino, the home of my dreams. Tofino was like one big coffeehouse, full of the alternative lifestyle folk with whom I feel most at home. I came out of myself even more, but still sang and danced only when I was alone.
In Tofino, at every musical event, the entire crowd became a palpitating, writing mass of ecstatic gyration. I was far more open now, much braver. But still not liberated from my self-consciousness enough to get out of my seat and gyrate with the crowd. I thrummed with the beat of the drums all through my being, but could not leave my chair.
All this lifetime, one part of me longed to be Out There while the other held me fast. I could reflect on so many wasted chances to fully participate in life, many missed opportunities to fully savor joy - and yet, still, all those times, inside my heart, I danced.

Thanks, Big B :)

Sunday, July 18, 2010


[Note: this is written entirely tongue in cheek, intended as humor - I hope no one is offended:)]

The gong of time rings with a resounding thunk at the moment one looks back on all the years, realizing with a sudden shock how, the last ten years having zipped by in a nanosecond, the years stretching ahead are ominously few. After sixty, one thinks (or tries not to think) of best and worst case scenarios: ten to fifteen years no longer stretches ahead lazily, but looms as a finite entity which must not be squandered.

One tricks oneself into moving through lazy self-directed days, one still wastes whole chunks of time, hours, days, even weeks. There is still next week, next month, next year to clean out the detritus in the cupboards, write the book of one's life, make out a will, tell everyone in your life what they mean to you. Until there isnt.

After sixty, the sense of infinite possibility changes. Once one envisioned white knights who may yet arrive. Now the probable scenario switches to handy-dart drivers, meals on wheels, even hearse drivers who may pull up to one's door unexpectedly. Why unexpected? Why is it that each of us knows that everyone dies, but continues to believe it will always be Somebody Else? Possibilities now include knee replacement and orthotics, the challenge of living on too little money, and the stunning dental lottery by which one races one's teeth to the Final Demise.

One has long since stopped clicking through the leering hairy photos on Who needs a grizzled bad-tempered wart-encrusted lothario with wandering eyes and expensive tobacco habits cluttering up one's living space? The lifelong pursuit of peace is attained and re-embraced with every bout of solitude, finally underlining that this is my chosen and preferred state, reclaimed after each relinquishment with stronger fervor.

The time factor begins to press urgently when someone who started one's life fully expecting to have books published has been so busy raising children, that she has written only one, as the second and perhaps the most definitive clamors insistently. The time is now to tell my story, proof against my children's claims that they had the most traumatic childhoods on the planet. Yes, even worse than Rwandan children, or those raised in caves in Afghanistan! I remember all those years, all the laughter, all I put into it - my life's blood, a trend that continues into my declining years, head bloody but unbowed. I shall write it down, all I remember, hoping at least one of my offspring will read it:)

Declining years - somehow when I look back at the trajectory of this path I bumbled upon, I see an ascent, rather than a descent. Flailing and wretched, I stumbled by fate and fortune onto some magical turnings, and grew with every decade deeper into myself and the journey. If this be close to the pinnacle, it might give one pause to take stock: the fatigue of shoring up other peoples' journeys; limbs showing the wear and tear of all the self-flogging required to assume a load big enough for two or three, toppling about precariously on my shoulders; days when I can barely stagger about with yelps of pain; finances best not even mentioned; in need of help, after all the helping, and a future that promises no ease of these difficulties.

BUT! The riches! Having raised those children alone with all ofthe energy and heart I could summon. Being a loved and appreciated grandma and now a great-grandma. The coffeehouse years that showed me Another Way. Having made one of the strongest dreams of my life come true in my move to the ocean. Ten glorious years immersed in the wonders of nature, in a community of kindred spirits. Having come home fully to myself, being okay with who I am and the life I have lived. Loving my little trailer, my books and music, my furry companions and the peacefulness of my life, waking up each day to a day that is my own, at last, at LAST!

I heard the gong clearly when my mother died, in that passage conferring the mantle of family matriarch on me. With her passing, there was no longer a buffer between me and my own mortality. Her presence had kept me young, still someone's child. With her death in 1994, perforce I became a grownup.

I see in the younger generation the self-absorption of the young, the youthful unawareness of just how mortal I am, just how finite my years. They think they have lots of time to work out the issues and the anger. They dont know that their perception of the years I gave my heart and soul to rewrites history in a way that erases my life, removes all the joy and striving, all the effort, that I put into our lives together.

The gong reverberates inside more frequently; the press of time ahead being extremely finite, is still there. Yet human nature is such that one wakes to the promise of a new day as if one always will. Unable or unwilling to grasp the reality, even as one sits by the deathbeds of others, that one morning will dawn without one being present to witness it.

In response to death, one can only live, as fully and consciously as one can, appreciating the gifts and the glory, the way a new bud unfurls under the first warmth of spring, or a newborn opens its eyes on a world tinged with wonder.

Walking with my sister and the dogs the other night, after my son had once again unthinkingly flattened me by a careless comment that erased his entire childhood, I moaned, "It's going to be horrible having to go through my Life Review at the end of my life. It's been hard enough living through it once!"

My sister smiled. "I'm sure when St Peter sees you, he'll just say 'dont even bother' and wave you right in," and we both cackled hopelessly.